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Person of the Week
Branford Elks Recognize Flanigan as Veteran of the Year and For His Service to Town
With decades of service to veterans, the Branford community, and in the military, Dennis Flanigan was selected to receive the Branford Elks’ Lodge #1939 Veteran of the Year Award. Dennis was presented with the award on Feb. 20. (Photo by Lisa Arpin)
(l-r) On the night Dennis Flanigan (center) was recognized as Branford Elks Veteran of the Year, his family joined in the celebration including (l-r): son-in-law Max Stone, granddaughter Taylor Stone, wife Annette Flanigan, daughter Denise Stone and granddaughter Olivia Stone. (Photo by Lisa Arpin)
With decades of service to veterans, his community in Branford, and in the military, Dennis Flanigan was selected to receive the Branford Elks’ Lodge #1939 Veteran of the Year Award. Dennis was presented with the award on Feb. 20 by Lodge Exalted Ruler John Franco.
“That’s a great honor for me to be chosen as Veteran of the Year for the Elks,” says Dennis, who joined the lodge about five years ago. “They do a great job of supporting veterans. That’s what basically got me involved with the Elks.”
According to Elks #1939 past exalted ruler (PER) Darren Lawlor, “The Elks vow, ‘So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them.’”
Nationwide, Elk volunteers visit thousands of hospitalized veterans; support both active military forces and retired veterans; furnish food, comfort care items, therapeutic items, and gifts; and host holiday celebrations and recreational activities at bases and hospitals, among other efforts. As a national organization, in 2020 Elks contributed more than $32 million to more than 300 Veterans Administration Medical Centers, clinics, and state care facilities.
On Feb. 20, Elks members thanked Dennis for “not only his service to our country but also for his service to our town,” Lawler said.
Dennis is currently the longest-serving elected member of Branford’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM), for which he currently serves as moderator. He’s also a long-standing member of Branford’s all volunteer Fireworks Committee, as well as the Branford Veterans Parade Committee. Dennis is also a five-time past commandant of the Branford American Legion Post #83 and a current appointed member of the Town of Branford’s Veterans Advisory Committee.
Joining the Military
Dennis grew up in Fair Haven and had just recently graduated from Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven when he was called up to serve in Vietnam.
“I was 19 years old when I first received the letter in mail from Uncle Sam saying ‘We need you.’ So I went to serve my country,” says Dennis. “I put in a year in Vietnam in the ‘Brown Water Navy’ as they called it, on the Mekong Delta, and then when I came back, I served another year in Norfolk, Virginia.”
He completed his Naval service as a third class petty officer.
When he came back home, as Dennis can attest, there weren’t many public accolades being handed out to Vietnam veterans at that time.
“The unfortunate thing is, back in the Vietnam era, we weren’t being duly recognized. We just didn’t get that recognition from people when we were coming back. People didn’t think too much of us,” he says. “That has changed immensely now. People do support the veterans, 100 percent, and I’m glad to see that. It’s a great honor to be a veteran and to have served my country.”
Dennis is also honored to help serve other veterans through several roles, including his volunteer work for the town as a charter member of the Veterans Advisory Committee, which was formed in 2015 as a liaison group to help connect veterans contacting the town for assistance with organizations, hospitals, and other programs that can help.
Dennis moved to Branford in 1970 when he married his wife, Annette (née Richitelli), a Branford native. He went on to receive his degree in logistics from the University of New Haven, working for Sargent Manufacturing for 31 years before he retired.
As a Republican representing the town’s 5th District, Dennis has served on the Branford RTM for 36 years, making him longest-running member of the present-day Branford RTM. Dennis is also currently serving one of several terms as the RTM moderator, a position to which an RTM member is elected by the other members of the RTM.
“I would have to say, maybe 8 to 10 years of the 36, I’ve been moderator,” says Dennis, who has also been elected to serve as RTM clerk in the past.
The RTM’s 30 members are elected to represent residents from among the town’s seven districts.
While the RTM has been an important part of the town government for many years now, some residents still may not fully grasp how it works, or even what it is.
“If you talk to a lot of people out there, they ask you what the RTM is. A lot of people don’t really know, or may not have heard the terminology ‘Representative Town Meeting,’” says Dennis. “They should realize that we are the representatives for their district that actually vote on ordinances and vote on their budgets, and that people can come to us for any problems or any questions that they may have. We are their representatives of the [town] government.”
While they are elected, all RTM members are volunteers who put in plenty of hours. Members serve on various RTM committees that review specific items, which are then reported to the full RTM, usually with a committee recommendation that assists with bringing the matter to a full, final vote of the RTM.
“The RTM itself holds its monthly meeting, but in addition to that, there’s many, many subcommittee meetings that meet throughout that month,” says Dennis, ticking off the names of Public Services, Rules and Ordinances, Education, and Ways and Means committees of the RTM.
In addition to his other services to the town, for the past five years, Dennis has been working for the Branford Police Department as a school crossing guard. During the pandemic, he’s noticed that a lot of folks who see him out there directing traffic in the sun, snow, and rain have been taking a moment to say thanks for keeping kids and motorists safe.
“You can’t believe how many people come up to me in my position working for the Police Department and say, ‘Thank you for what you do,’” says Dennis. “Just like the regular police officers, we usually don’t get a lot of recognition for what we do, because that’s our job, and we’re out there doing it to the best of our ability. So I don’t know if it’s COVID or what the case may be, but more and more people are saying thanks for doing your job out there, thanks for your service.”
Dennis is also proud to note his son-in-law, Max Stone, serves as a law enforcement officer with Connecticut’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and is married to his daughter, Denise, a BHS alumnae (the couple lives in Old Saybrook with their two daughters, Taylor and Olivia).
On Feb. 20, the family came to the Elks Lodge in Branford, together with Annette, to be there when Dennis was recognized as the lodge’s Elks Veteran of the Year. (See more photos from the night with this story at www.zip06.com.)
Dennis says it was a proud moment, and that he is especially honored to have been recognized for his military service by Branford Elks.
“I think Elks is a great organization,” says Dennis. “Where there’s veterans, there’s the Elks.”